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Outlook unknown for job seekers

Billi Jean Gurnsey lives in two rooms, one an office and the other a bedroom, in a house off Orchard Road in South Kitsap.

She admits the rooms are a step down from the 1,700-square-foot home that she owned. But that house was foreclosed on. Since Gurnsey is unemployed for the third time in a little more than three years, two rooms are almost more than she can afford.

“They’re small but nice,” she said.

The 48-year-old past president of the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce keeps a generally positive outlook on her rooms; along with most other things in life.

But there are times, said Gurnsey, a former sales manager for Wave Broadband who at one time made more than $120,000 a year, that facing the day is hard to do.

“There are days when you just don’t want to crawl out of bed in the morning,” she said.

Gurnsey is one of thousands of unemployed area workers looking for a job. According to numbers recently released by the Washington State Employment Security Department, 10,160 of Kitsap County’s 124,400 potential workers were unemployed in March. And though job prospects have improved steadily in Kitsap County since the peak of the recession in 2009, many unemployed still have a tough time finding work.

“I’ll take anything to get my foot in the door,” she said. “You never know what might work out.”

Covering the gap

To maintain unemployment security benefits, Gurnsey applies to at least three jobs a week. But since she lost her most recent job as a sales representative at Northwest Living Magazine after only three months when the magazine closed on Dec. 1, Gurnsey has applied to hundreds of jobs. One day, she said, she even applied to 24 positions in the span of 12 hours.

Nothing stuck, she said. Often times she doesn’t even get a call back.

“I hear back from about 10 percent of the jobs I apply to,” she said.

Gurney is, undoubtedly, not alone. According to Washington State’s Employment Security Department, Kitsap County’s unemployment rate hovers around 8.2 percent. The number peaked in early 2010 at 10.6 percent. Currently, Kitsap County’s unemployment rate falls a hair below Washington state’s overall unemployment rate of 8.3 percent.

Elizabeth Scott, a labor market economist for the Employment Security Department who specializes in Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam Counties, said Kitsap County tended to fair a bit better than the rest of the state because of the government jobs in the area.

“Throughout the entire recession and the entire recovery period, Kitsap has faired better than the rest of the state,” she said. “There’s employment in the county. You’ve got naval installations and a lot of federal type jobs.”

And while the public sector across the state lost an estimated 4,500 jobs in March, the private sector gained 62,800 jobs, bringing a different kind of hope to the area.

Both initial unemployment claims and continued claims fell in March, something Scott called “good news.” Also, she said, more people in Kitsap who did not receive unemployment insurance have started to enter the job market because of recent talk of a recovery. She said more of the unemployed labor force that doesn’t receive unemployment benefits — about two-thirds of the total force — are shopping around for jobs. Something that can be a bit of a burden to those that had been looking for jobs all along, but still good news in general.

“The ratio of workers to job openings will be impacted when more people decide to enter the labor force,” she said. “But the number of jobs being created is outpacing the number of people coming in.”

It doesn’t always feel that way, though, said Gurnsey.

“It’s a lot tougher looking for a job this time around than it was in ’09,” she said.

The bounce back

Coreen Haydock, executive director of the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce, recently posted a job opening for a part-time administrative assistant online. Within a few days, Haydock said, she received 76 résumés for the 28-hour per week job that didn’t offer employee health coverage. Out of those 76 resumes, Haydock said at least 50 of the résumés were from qualified applicants. Five or 10 years ago, she said, not nearly that many would have applied.

“In a different kind of market, I would have had a lot less,” she said. “I had a lot to choose from.”

Haydock also mentioned that a number of the applicants were overqualified for the position, a problem Gurnsey said she often faces. With more than two decades of experience as a business-to-business sales person, Gurnsey said many of the employers she applies to are scared off by her previously high salary and level of experience.

Others are having a hard time breaking into entry-level positions. Kathy Bradley, a 50-year-old who has lived in Manchester since 2008, said when she was released from a temporary position with the Department of Corrections in October, she decided to try a field outside of law enforcement. Bradley took a 90-day program in aerospace industry training offered through Washington State WorkSource. Since she graduated from the program in early April, she has found that many of the big aerospace industry jobs are for individuals who have a minimum of two years experience in the field. So far, the new career has been slow to come.

“I keep hitting a wall,” she said. “I have already applied for jobs outside of the training.”

Jobs expected to return

Still, Kitsap County residents have plenty of reason to be hopeful, Scott said. Employment Security Department projects the average annual growth rate in local industry and occupations will increase, especially beyond 2013. Of course, some industries such as logging are projected to slow, while others such as plastic product manufacturing are expected to grow.

Whether continued growth will help Gurnsey find a job in the short term, though, is another question. With résumés out to jobs as far away as Illinois, she’s not sure a job in Kitsap County will ever again be in the cards. And she doesn’t know if she could even manage a position in sales, which are often times jobs based 100 percent on commission, long enough to build a solid customer base.

One of the nice aspects about renting a room, she said, is that it keeps herself mobile if a job comes along. For part-time work, she helps her friend that owns a catering business serve drinks and food. She said it’s difficult serving at events she used to attend — and even produced. But staying active is a great way for her to network, she said, and stay out of a funk.

 

“It’s extremely humbling, I will tell you that much,” she said. “What else can I do?"

 

 

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